CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Accompanied by astronauts and shuttle workers, Atlantis made a slow, solemn journey to retirement Friday, the last space shuttle to orbit the world and the last to leave NASA’s nest.
Atlantis emerged just before dawn from the massive Vehicle Assembly Building and, riding atop a 76-wheeled platform, began the 10-mile trek to the Kennedy Space Center’s main tourist stop.
About 200 workers gathered in the early-morning chill to see the spaceship out in the open for the final time. They were joined by the four astronauts who closed out the shuttle program aboard Atlantis more than a year ago.
The fact that several hundred shuttle workers are about to lose their jobs, now that Atlantis is being turned over to the visitor complex, dampened the mood. Thousands already have been laid off.
Some were too upset to even show up. Friday’s event marked the true end to the 30-year shuttle program.